Thursday, October 05, 2006

Just "Perfect"

Today you're getting treated to two-posts-in-one, since this title fits two stories... perfectly.

One is just a nice moment from today that reminded me that happiness can come from anywhere, and the other one is just plain funny. Hope you enjoy them :)

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Autumn has arrived in London. In a 24-hour span, we went from wearing light jackets (or none at all) and enjoying the warm sunshine in the park on the way home from work to bundling up with heavy coats. With an umbrella as a constant companion... Yep, it's rained every day for the last 4 days and is supposed to rain for the next 3 at least. Every day I look at the forecast and say a little prayer that the rain will not happen until the school day ends so my kids get to play outside during their breaks.

I have learned that children who are stuck inside all day long get VERY hyper and noisy after a few hours. Especially when they know it's "almost hometime" when they're set free to leave school and walk out into the rain to meet their grown-ups. They love being out in the rain.

Today as I shivered in the miserable windy, rainy afternoon watching my kids run to greet their families, I noticed a boy in my class standing without a jacket staring up at the sky with a huge grin on his face, arms spread out and an expression of pure joy. Confused, I asked him if he wanted to stand under the shelter while he waited for his mom.

His response: "But this rain - it's just perfect!"

It made me want to take the hood from my jacket off of my head so I could soak it in too.

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Classroom management. Probably the single most challenging part about being a new teacher is learning to make sure that all of the people in your classroom are paying attention and not distracting the other students around them. Some teachers threaten punishment, others use stickers and awards for good behaviour, others use whistles - it's different for every teacher and often depends on the type of rapport you have with your class.

I'm lucky to have a group of young kids who still want to please their teachers and actually care about not getting into trouble. Most of them anyway. For the last week, I've been struggling with how to manage the behavior of one of the girls in my class (let's call her L).

L is the paradox-student who can either behave beautifully or very very badly. She moves from one end of the spectrum without warning and often refuses to follow instructions even when every other student is doing what they're supposed to be doing. Over the last two weeks, I've interrupted myself several times to stop her from talking when I'm talking, or to stop playing with that pencil / piece of paper / book / marker / rubber (they call erasers "rubbers" - just hilarious) / well you get my point...

Yesterday, I was in the middle of a math review with the class when I noticed her loudly counting on her hands. Thinking at first that this was math-related, I reminded the class to think "in their heads". She neither heard my suggestion, nor gave any indication that she even cared when I had to call her name to get her attention. Turns out she was working out the syllables for a haiku poem (what we had been working on in the previous lesson). I appreciate that she was doing work - but this was a math period and she knew she should be doing math, not poetry. This type of thing was very typical and after several run-ins with her, I finally assigned her to the dreaded Work Club (basically detention that is served during break-times). She just gave me a dirty look and after a half hour started repeating her behaviour. Sighing loudly, I told her I was very disappointed and that I really didn't want to have to keep giving her these punishments, so she was going to have to start improving her poor attitude.

If she was just getting distracted by other students or the objects on her table, I could easily let that go, but she would go out of her way to talk to other kids in the class when she wasn't supposed to, thus getting them into trouble too, AND she actively tried not to participate in any lessons.

Usually, I use positive reinforcement in my classroom management. But this doesn't always work - sometimes kids need to be reminded that bad choices or behaviour leads to a negative consquence. They're getting old enough to understand that they need to take responsibility for their own behaviour and that everything is a choice. They can choose to try their best, or they can choose to not bother.

The class responds very well to this, and we've built up and excellent rapport over the last few weeks. They sit quietly in the classroom, walk (usually) quietly in the halls, and have begun to catch themselves breaking rules (like calling out without putting their hands up) and correct themselves without me having to say a word. I rarely have to even raise my voice (I never yell) to get their attention. It's great.

L just wasn't responding. Maybe she wasn't buying it. I don't know. I had a private conversation with her about her behaviour, during which I reminded her that it was okay to make mistakes because nobody's perfect. I just expected her to try her best every day.

"But I AM, Miss!" (Little hands on her hips, and indignant look on her face, challenging me to argue)

"You're perfect? I find that hard to believe, L. No person is perfect. And that's okay"

"I AM perfect! I do everything perfectly. I don't make mistakes. You just don't know. I'm PERFECT." (Now she was getting pissed off)

"Oh man", I'm thinking, but instead say "Okay, so what you're telling me is that you're the only person in the world who is perfect in every way and never does anything wrong. It's just the everybody else who isn't perfect?"

"EXACTLY. I'm PERFECT!"

I was not going to win this debate. Partly because I was trying so hard not to laugh at her insistent tone and combination of irritation and exasperation on her face. I gave up and sent her on her way.

This morning I asked for the advice of another teacher on tactics I could try to get L to see the light and start behaving better at school. She suggested rewarding her as soon as I did catch her doing something good - and doing that as often as I could. Basically even if I saw her talking a minute before sitting quietly to praise her for being quiet and ignore the bad behaviour. This didn't sound right to me, but since I'm new at this, I'm always willing to try something new.

This morning while taking attendance the class was dead quiet. I could have closed my eyes and not known that 30 kids were sitting in the room. It was such a big difference from my first week with them (when I had to remind them every 5 minutes to be "quiet and sensible") that I praised them immediately and told them that they were all going to have their names written on the board for doing something good. Starting with L. I told her that her name would be first. No individual praise or anything, just that it was special to have your name be first on the list of people caught doing good things.

Apparently this made an impression. Today, she:

1. cleaned up the classroom without being asked
2. sat quietly through pretty much every lesson
3. moved her pencil case to a different table when she realized it was distracting her
4. asked to sit at a different table so she wouldn't be tempted to chat with her friend
5. hugged me twice
6. decided to try doing the spelling dictation with the highest group (doing the most difficult work)
7. earned two "team points" for her great behaviour and attitude

She was like a different child. I'm still floored by the complete turnaround in her and am wondering which kid is going to show up in my classroom tomorrow.

At the end of the day, I told her how impressed I was with her behaviour and her effort to try her best.

Her response?

"See Miss?! I TOLD YOU I'M PERFECT! I knew you'd figure it out!"

5 Comments:

  • At 12:49 AM, Anonymous mom said…

    Ah the joys of childhood. Wouldn't it be great if we all just once in awhile thought we were perfect. Sure hope little L lives up to ths perfection tomorrow.
    One lesson I loved doing in kindergarten was to have the children at the end of the day tell about how someone in the class treated them kindly. The child spoken about got a sticker saying I am a great friend.

     
  • At 8:41 AM, Blogger Laura Coubrough said…

    L - you're talking about me right?
    I'm the perfect one right?
    Just kidding - adorable story Mel.

     
  • At 10:34 AM, Blogger Beechball * said…

    haha, that's hilarious! That seriously sounds like a sitcom adventure or something, wow... good luck with L, I know how 'difficult' we L's can be! :P LLLLLyndsay!

     
  • At 2:47 PM, Blogger daily editor said…

    Cute stories, especially the second one. It made me laugh!

     
  • At 4:55 PM, Blogger Melinda said…

    Glad everybody enjoyed the stories - I will definitely have more funny kid stories as time goes on...

    cheers

     

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